NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – July 6-10, 2009

July 13, 2009


On Tuesday and Wednesday, July 7 and 8, NSAC hosted a group of twenty farmers and representatives from NSAC member organizations for its annual appropriations and budget fly-in.  By a stroke of timing luck, the FY 10 appropriations bill was being voted on by the full House and going through markup in the Senate Appropriations Committee at the same time that fly-in participants were making visits to legislative offices (see outcome of the appropriations debate in related story below).

In addition to Hill visits to discuss the FY 10 appropriations priorities (which included the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, Value-Added Producer Grant program, Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account program, and ATTRA), fly-in participants also discussed Farm to School with key legislators and met with high-level officials at USDA to discuss the FY 11 budget and new initiatives in research, conservation, marketing, and rural development to advance sustainable agriculture systems.

A round of thanks goes out to the wonderful group of farmers from AR, MO, GA, CT, PA, IA, WI, and CA that took time out of being in the field to meet with legislators and USDA staff in Washington, DC and to the member organizations that helped make it happen: Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, Organic Farming Research Foundation, Center for Rural Affairs, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Izaak Walton League, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA.


House Passes Its Ag Appropriations Bill:  On Thursday, July 9, the House approved the FY 2010 agriculture spending bill (HR 2997) by a vote of 266-160.  The bill is notable for substantial increases in funding for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) feeding program, food and drug safety, and international food assistance.

Five amendments were adopted on the floor, including measures to increase funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) by $2 million to a total of $82 million and increase the NRCS conservation technical assistance budget by $5 million to a total of $874 million.  All of the increases for these and other amendments were paid for by decreasing various USDA salary and benefits line items.

As part of a Managers amendment by Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), $500,000 was added on behalf of Rep. Holt (D-NJ) for USDA’s Office of Inspector General to investigate the integrity of the organic label, including whether non-organic substances are being inappropriately allowed to remain in products labeled organic after organic alternatives have become available.  Though no specific funding was provided, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) did engage in a floor colloquy with DeLauro to emphasize the importance of funding the Organic Data Initiative when the bill gets to conference.

Senate Committee Approves Ag Appropriations Bill:  On Tuesday, July 7, the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY 2010 agricultural appropriations bill.  Like the House, the bill features significant increases for WIC, international food aid, and food safety.

NSAC Appropriations Chart: — As always, for readers who want all the details, our regularly updated appropriations chart is available here.

Conservation — Also like the House bill, it limits cuts to farm bill mandatory programs to a $270 million cut to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and a zeroing out of small watershed dam rehabilitation money.  This is in marked contrast to last year’s Senate bill, which included wide ranging farm bill cuts, and to the Obama budget request, which proposed to slash farm bill conservation spending very significantly.  The Senate bill also provides $899 million for conservation operations and technical assistance, $25 million more than the House bill and $46 million more than FY 09 levels.

Rural Development — Working with the advantage of a modestly higher total funding allocation than the House Committee had available, the Senate bill includes some very important increases in rural development and research.  The Senate bill, in contrast to the House bill, would fully fund the Obama funding request levels for the Rural Microenterpreneur Assistance Program ($22 million in addition to $4 million in farm bill direct funding), Value-Added Producer Grants ($22 million), Rural Coop Development Grants ($14 million), and Rural Energy for America Program ($68 million in addition to $60 million in farm bill direct funding).  The ATTRA sustainable agriculture information service program received a $200,000 bump up in the Senate bill, to $2.8 million.

Research — On the research side, the Senate bill generally increased formula funding for land grant universities by the same or slightly more than the House bill.  More significantly, the Senate bill came close to reaching the $300 million funding level requested by many agricultural research advocates for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the new replacement for the old National Research Initiative and the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems.  The Senate number is $295 million, $83 million more than the House and $94 million more than the Obama request and current FY 09 level.

Sadly, the big increase in AFRI competitive grants funding did not translate over nearly as strongly into competitive grants programs for sustainable agriculture, organic agriculture, and Integrated Pest Management.  The Senate bill would increase funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program by $238,000 to $19.2 million.  While the House bill increases the integrated organic program funding from $1.8 million to $5.0 million, the Senate bill holds it constant.  For the various IPM research and extension accounts, the Senate bill proposes an increase of $772,000 to a combined total of $30.6 million.

In percentage terms, the Senate bill increases AFRI by 46 percent, IPM by 2.6 percent, and sustainable agriculture by 1.3 percent.  With the exception of organic, the House bill leaves all of those accounts level at current funding.

Credit and Beginning Farmers — Both the House and Senate bills fund direct and guaranteed farm ownership and operating loans at the Obama requests levels, which are significantly higher than FY 09 levels via regular appropriations, but significantly lower than actual FY 09 levels inclusive of emergency funding added to the programs via the recovery and the supplemental appropriations bills.  There is every reason to expect that increased funding will be needed by next spring via another supplemental to meet increased demand stemming from the financial crisis and declining income in some ag sectors.

Neither the House nor Senate bills funds the farm bill’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account program, a NSAC priority.  We will continue to explore ways to get this innovative approach to new farm starts off the ground as the bill moves to conference.

Office of Advocacy and Outreach — Shockingly, the Senate bill does not propose to fund the new Office of Advocacy and Outreach at USDA, while the House bill does include the $3 million requested by the Department.  The office will coordinate USDA policy and outreach activities for small farms, beginning farmers and ranchers, minority farmers, and farmworkers.  On the Senate side, the office was a priority in the farm bill for Senators Feingold and Harkin.  We will be working with those offices and looking to find ways to ensure it receives funding in the final bill.

Senate Kicks Off Action on Climate Change Legislation:  On Tuesday, the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee began Senate action on climate change legislation with a hearing whose witnesses included the Secretaries of Agriculture, Energy and the Interior and the EPA Administrator.  The Senate will be crafting a comprehensive climate and energy bill by combining elements from the House-passed H.R. 2454 – the American Clean Energy & Security Act – and contributions from other Senate Committees.

The EPW Committee has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday, July 14 on Economic Opportunities for Agriculture, Forestry Communities, and Others in Reducing Global Warming Pollution and the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold its on climate bill hearing on Wednesday, July 22 at 2:30 EST.  You can link to a video feed of the hearing from the Committee’s webpage at http://agriculture.senate.gov/.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee has gone on record supporting the measures for agriculture of the House-approved Act, included after negotiations between House leadership and House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN).  These measures include putting USDA in charge of the agricultural offsets for cap-and-trade framework, creating a new financial climate conservation assistance program funded through an allowance for agriculture, assuring that 1 billion gallons of soy biodiesel will not be subject to greenhouse gas emission standards, and barring EPA for five years from using international indirect land use changes in its determination of the carbon footprint for biofuels.

Senator Harkin has indicated that he wants to improve some of those provisions and add a measure that would allow farmers to “stack” GHG offset benefits from land enrolled in USDA conservation programs.  Other Senate Agriculture Committee members playing key roles on the agricultural measures include Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

Consistent with the NSAC Policy Council’s recent decision to elevate our involvement with the climate bill as it moves to the Senate, NSAC this week submitted initial recommendations on the ag-portions of the bill to the Agriculture Committee and will follow with a communication to Senators in the coming weeks.

The timeline for Senate passage of climate change legislation is still a moving target.  Late this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that he would like to have a bill completed before international climate change negotiations commence in Copenhagen in December, although other Senators opined that having a complete bill in hand would suffice for the negotiation.  Senator Reid also pushed back until September 28 a deadline for Senate Committees with jurisdiction over the bill to complete their portion of the bill.

In response, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the EPW Committee, is delaying markup of comprehensive climate change legislation until after the August congressional recess.  We assume that also means the unveiling of her bill, originally set to occur in the next week or two, will now also wait for early September.

Child Nutrition Act Extension:  Senate Ag Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) said on Tuesday that he will seek a short-term extension to the child nutrition programs set to expire on September 30, 2009.  The Child Nutrition Act includes the school food programs, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program.

NSAC is working in close alliance with the Community Food Security Coalition, Farm to School Network, Wallace Center, School Food Focus, and others to win $10 million a year in mandatory funding for the Farm to School program as part of the reauthorization.

Both Harkin and House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) continue to say the reauthorization is a top priority and action may start in October, but given the press of health care, climate change, financial reform, food safety and appropriations legislation, many observers now feel that action in early 2010 is perhaps more likely.

The White House has not issued a child nutrition act statement since much earlier this year when it proposed a billion dollar a year increase for the programs as part of its budget proposal.  Other than the press of major urgent legislation in the congressional queue, money is the biggest obstacle right now to getting the act reauthorized.  The Obama proposal to fund an increase through cuts to farm commodity payments was considered deal on arrival on Capitol Hill, though some more targeted farm program cut could still possibly be in the mix.  Other contenders for “pay-go offsets” for the bill include education loan program reform and possibly tax loophole closings.

White House Food Safety Working Group Announces Key Findings:  On Tuesday, July 7, Vice President Biden along with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced specific steps they are going to take to advance the core principles outlined on the Working Group website.  The steps include the creation of tougher standards to protect consumers from salmonella, increased enforcement of beef facilities, new FDA guidance to improve safety of leafy greens, melons, and tomatoes, a new national traceback and response system, and the creation of new positions at food safety agencies.

Michael Taylor Appointed to FDA Post:  Two days after the President’s Food Safety Working Group presented their new line of defense on foodborne pathogens, the Food and Drug Administration announced that Michael Taylor will begin a new position as senior advisor to FDA’s commissioner, Margaret Hamburg.  Taylor has played the revolving door dance for quite some time with previous stints at FDA, Monsanto, and USDA (and Monsanto again). Most recently, he has been a professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.


Antibiotic Resistance Hearing:  On Monday, July 13, Margaret Mellon, program director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an NSAC member, will testify at a House Rules Committee hearing on the growing public health threat of antibiotic-resistant diseases.  The committee hearing is on The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (HR 1549), a bill introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) that would require the FDA to review antibiotics used in animal agriculture to determine their public health risk and withdraw from the market those drugs that cannot be shown to be safe.  There will not be live video streaming for the hearing but you can access Dr. Mellon’s testimony on the Market Forces.


Dairy Announcement Promised Soon:  On Monday, July 6, USDA Secretary Vilsack said that within a few weeks he will be announcing financing help for struggling dairy farmers.  Under consideration are lower-interest operating loans, reducing principle on existing loans, or delayed loan repayment terms.

New USDA Appointees Announced:  Slowly but surely, Secretary Vilsack is filling in missing slots among key USDA political appointee positions.  Announcements made last week include:

Natural Resources and Environment, Deputy Under Secretary — On Wednesday, July 8, Vilsack named Ann Mills as Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment.  Mills has most recently worked at American Rivers.  As a senior staff person for Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, Mills directed the Senate office and was involved with the senator’s work on agricultural and natural resource management issues.  Mills also worked for California Lieutenant Governor Leo McCarthy and then-Congressman Richard Durbin.  Mills holds a Masters Degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, and a BA in Political Science from Tufts University.

The other NRE Deputy Under Secretary (for Forest Service issues), Jay Jensen, has been on the job for a while, but still unfilled is the NRE Under Secretary position.  It was filled for a short while by Homer Wilkes, who subsequently resigned.

Risk Management Agency, Administrator — On Thursday, July 9, Vilsack named William J. Murphy as Administrator of USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA).  Murphy served as RMA Acting Administrator during the transition to the Obama Administration.  Before that, he served RMA as the Deputy Administrator for Insurance Services; Director of the Regional Office in Davis, CA, overseeing crop insurance operations in California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii; and Director of the Western Region Compliance Office. He is a native of Pennsylvania and received a B.S. in Agronomy and Farm Management from Pennsylvania State University.

Farm Service Agency, Administrator — On Thursday, July 9, Vilsack named Jonathan Coppess as Administrator for the Farm Service Agency, replacing Doug Caruso, who resigned from the position this week to return to his native Wisconsin.  Caruso left abruptly, and was quoted in the press saying:  While I believe USDA leaders and I share the same goals, we clearly have divergent views on how to accomplish those goals.  Good people with the same goals and objectives can and will differ on tactics.  Those differences made me a bad fit for the position and, given that reality, the most constructive thing I could do was step aside to make way for USDA leaders to appoint someone more in synch with their vision.

Coppess was until this week FSA Deputy Administrator, and previously worked for Senator Ben Nelson as his Legislative Assistant for Agriculture, Energy and Environmental policy.  He joined Senator Nelson’s staff in February 2006, after practicing law in Chicago for four years.  Coppess grew up on his family’s corn and soybean farm in west-central Ohio.  He holds a bachelor’s degree from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, and a law degree from The George Washington University Law School.

Food Safety, Deputy Under Secretary — On Thursday, July 9, Vilsack named Jerold R. Mande, M.P.H., as Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA.  In this position, Mande will have responsibility for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the USDA agency responsible for inspecting meat, poultry, and processed egg products.  Most recently, Mande served as Associate Director for Public Policy at the Yale Cancer Center at the Yale University School of Medicine.  Prior to this, Mande served on the White House staff as a health policy adviser. He was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Health at the Department of Labor.  He also served as Senior Advisor and Executive Assistant to the Commissioner of the Food and Drug and Administration, where he led design of the Nutrition Facts food label.  Mande began his career in Congress, where he was first hired to work on food safety legislation.  Mande holds a Masters Degree in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Bachelor of Science Degree, magna cum laude from the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

Still unnamed is the Under Secretary for Food Safety and the Administrator for FSIS.

Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Director — On Wednesday, July 8, Vilsack named Dr. Rajen Anand as Executive Director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the Center tasked with the development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans – currently being reviewed and revised by its Advisory Committee – and the MyPyramid food guidance system.  Anand joined the Center in 1995 as its Deputy Director and became Executive Director in 1997.  Prior to his work at USDA and in the interim, he served as professor of physiology for 30 years, including 6 years as department chair at California State University, Long Beach.  A graduate of the University of California, Davis, Anand holds a doctorate in human physiology, nutrition and biochemistry and a second doctorate in veterinary medicine.

Research, Education and Economics, Counselor to the Under Secretary — On Friday, June 10, Vilsack named Rachael Goldfarb as counselor to the Under Secretary for REE.  Most recently, Goldfarb served as Special Assistant to the President of the Global Health Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Goldfarb served in the Clinton White House, first as Assistant to the Policy Staff at the National Economic Council and then as Assistant to John D. Podesta, the Chief of Staff to President Clinton.  Following the end of the Clinton administration, Goldfarb was named Special Assistant to the Chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  She received her Juris Doctor from Penn State University, where she served as Managing Editor of the Penn State International Law Review.

Research, Education and Economics, Senior Advisor for Energy and Climate — On Friday, July 10, Vilsack named Maura O’Neill as Senior Advisor for Energy and Climate for REE.  O’Neill served most recently as chief of staff for Senator Maria Cantwell.  She has founded four companies, is on the faculty of UC Berkeley, served on local, state, utility and non-profit policy committees.  In 1987 she was one of the North American Representatives to the NATO Advanced Study Institute on Energy Efficiency and Utility Industry.  O’Neill has also served on the National Panel on Energy and Employment Policy.  O’Neill graduated with a BA from the University of Washington.  She received MBAs from both Columbia University and the University of California at Berkeley.  She completed her PhD at the University of Washington.

Research, Education and Economics, Senior Advisor for International Affairs — On Friday, July 10, Vilsack named Ann Tutwiler as Senior Advisor for International Affairs at REE.  Previously, she was advisor on International Trade for the Africa Bureau’s Sustainable Development group at USAID.  Before joining USAID, she was Managing Director, Agricultural Markets, for the Global Development Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, where among other duties she managed a substantial number of grants related to the 2007-8 farm bill campaign.  Tutwiler has also served as president and chief executive officer of the International Food & Agriculture Trade Policy Council, and played a major role in the development of the 1996 Farm Bill’s “freedom to farm” commodity title.  She was Director of Government Relations for the North American oilseed crushing and corn refining companies of Eridania Beghin-Say.  She has served on the board of the International Fertilizer Development Council and the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa.  Tutwiler received a degree in political science from Davidson College and a Masters in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.


Agriculture Committees – To Be or Not to Be:  For your summer reading amusement, we note that a dialogue occurred this week over whether or not there should be congressional agriculture committees between Washington Post reporter and blogger Ezra Klein and DTN reporter and blogger Chris Clayton. Follow the bouncing ping pong ball from point to counterpoint to rebuttal.

Categories: General Interest

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